Taste over waste: Italian practices of water consumption
By Leah Lombardi
Upon arriving in Europe I immediately noticed the differences in consumption of resources, but most noticeably the consumption of water. Of the 87,013.3 millions of gallons of bottled water consumed by the world in 2015, Italy consumed 2,876.0 million of those gallons. In 2015 Italy was the 3rd highest consumer per capita in the world with 47.0 gallons per capita. Italy ranked only behind Thailand with 53.8 gallons per capita, and Mexico with 64.5 gallons per capita.
Accustomed to a life of re-usable water bottles and touch-free water dispensers, I was surprised to discover the prevalence of plastic water bottles, not only in vending machines, but in people’s hands. At the gym downtown it is far more common to see an Italian on a treadmill sipping from a bottel of San Bendetto than a Camelbak.
The resistance to re-usable water bottles is especially surprising in the context of other Italian practices. Italy, especially in the North, is incredibly diligent about sorting waste in paper, plastic, and compost items. At the grocery stores patrons must specifically request and pay extra for plastic bags: an effort to reduce the amount of plastic bags that end up in the ocean.
These contexts lead me to the question, if so concerned about waste, why the prevalence of plastic water bottles? It must be the water. Far more than in the United States, people in Italy prefer bottled water to tap water. While tap water is perfectly to safe to drink at restaurants it is incredibly uncommon to drink tap water. In the United States rather, it is illegal in many states for a restaurant to refuse water to any person that asks, and it is always free and always from the tap. This being said Italy has faced more challenges than many places in the US in providing clean drinking water.
In 2014 Italy’s drinking water failed to meet the EU safety standards, with particularly challenging problems in the Lazio region surrounding Rome. Italy has long term suffered from water polution from arsenic and flourides. Still, Italy is considered a country with safe-to-drink tap water, however, a sometimes metallicy taste, particularly in coastal cities, results in a preference for bottled water.